Steven Salaita, a tenured professor of American Indian Studies at Virginia Tech, accepted a job offer of a tenured position in the American Indian Studies Department at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. A contract was signed in October of 2013. Anticipating their move from Virginia to Illinois along with their one-year-old child, Salaita and his wife both quit their jobs and sold their house.
In early August 2014, a few weeks before the start of the school year, the UICU Chancellor Phyllis Wise, without consulting the American Indian Studies Department, or any public process at all, told Salaita that his contract had been terminated.
Emails that have since come to light, due to a local newspaper’s (the News-Gazette) request for them under the state’s Open Records Act, revealed that during July, 2014 Wise had been consulting with alumni and members of the university’s office that deals with fund raising over what to do about the objections of wealthy and influential donors to Salaita’s hiring and their threats to cut off donations.
In one email by Chancellor Wise she described a two page briefing document about Salaita that she received from a major pro-Israel lobbying group. A FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to see this document was filed by The Electric Intifada, a web publication. By law, public institutions are required to keep such documents on file. The University informed The Electric Intifada that it cannot find any such document.
The reason given by chancellor Wise for the irregular and legally questionable “unhiring” was the content of tweets that Salaita, a Palestinian American, had sent out from his private twitter account denouncing Israel for its attack on Gaza.
Wise called Salaita’s tweets criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu “uncivil,” and said that this demonstrated that he wasn’t fit to be on the UICU faculty. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) along with the Chicago civil rights law firm of Loevy & Loevy, is representing Professor Salaita. In a public statement on the case, the CCR said, “The University’s action to repress or penalize Professor Salaita’s speech on a matter of public concern such as Israel/Palestine because of disagreement with its message is impermissible “viewpoint discrimination,” a serious First Amendment violation. It is also no defense for the University to claim that his speech was offensive or aggressive, as the First Amendment also clearly protects the tone and manner of speech others find objectionable. “
Recently, as if on cue, university officials around the country have been calling for “civility” as a new standard for judging acceptable speech about Israel/Palestine. In practice, it means censorship. It is part of an active campaign of some Zionist organizations and individuals in the USA to stamp out growing support for Palestinian rights at American colleges and universities and to punish any faculty, students and university administrators who don’t tow the line.
The reaction against this serious violation of Salaita’s free speech and legal rights has been strong. Over 6,000 scholars in numerous disciplines have pledged to boycott UICU. Several scholars have already cancelled scheduled appearances at events on the UICU campus. A general petition demanding reinstatement has over 16,000 signatures as of August 24. At UICU the American Indian Studies and the American Studies Departments have voted no confidence in Chancellor Wise. Other academic departments at universities around the country have condemned UICU’s termination of Salaita’s contract.
The Executive Committee of the Modern Language Association (MLA) sent a letter to IUCU asking them to rescind their action against Salaita and the Illinois Conference Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the American Association of University Professors issued a statement condemning the university’s action. Students and faculty at UICU have held rallies in support of Salaita and protested this politically motivated voiding of a legal contract.
Winning this case is important not only for the sake of Steven Salaita’s rights, but for the sake of academic freedom and free speech on American Campuses. We are up against an orchestrated campaign to eliminate dissenting views on Israel/Palestine which, if successful, will lead to millionaire donors determining who gets hired and fired, what is taught and what kind of speech is allowed on American universities.
o CCR: http://ccrjustice.org/ourcases/current-cases/professor-salaita-termination-speech-critical-israel
o Donation link:https://fundly.com/support-steven-salaita#
• NYC Salaita Support Group